This is what a world without Elena Gilbert looks like.
Credit: Bob Mahoney/The CW

In case you spent the last year in a coffin and need a Vampire Diaries refresher, here is what happened: Sheriff Forbes died. Jo died. Liv died. That other twin died. Kai died. (RIP all, except Kai.) Tyler left. Jeremy went somewhere…probably to Colorado to find that dog he abandoned. Stefan and Caroline are a thing. Witch vampires called heretics are a thing. Oh, and Elena Gilbert is taking a very long nap.

But we’re not quite caught up yet: I have to point out that I’m not Samantha Highfill. She will be recapping that other CW vampire show on Thursday nights. Two vampire shows on one night is great for viewers, terrible for recappers. So like Damon with Bonnie, you’re stuck with me. Now let’s get to season 7!

“Day One of Twenty-Two Thousand, Give or Take” opens in NYC. Brooklyn to be specific. Stefan is at a storage unit that has two coffins in it, which really has me wondering: How many storage facilities around the world are filled with half-dead vampires? Inside this coffin is none other than Damon Salvatore.

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Before we can process that, we’re thrown back three years to the present. And diaries are back!! It was Elena’s parting gift to us. She asked everyone to write down what happened so that when Bonnie dies she wakes up, she won’t have missed anything.

Caroline kicks off the diary action — she tells us/Elena that Damon is grieving her by helping Alaric, who’s grieving Jo. They are traveling across Europe while damaging their livers, well Alaric’s liver, but they have a chaperone: Bonnie. (I’m not gonna lie: This is a roadtrip movie I would watch.) Matt is about to become a deputy (LOL). And then there’s Stefan. He approaches Caroline as she’s furiously writing. They have an awkward conversation and then talk about how it’s not awkward, but it is. But then Caroline goes back to writing about how things are just peachy keen in Mystic Falls.

Wouldn’t you know it, on the other side of Mystic Falls at the exact same time, is a woman who is saying the exact opposite. She is not loving life: She hates the food, the air, the social media of it all. And then she gets hit by a car driven by two teenagers who leave her for dead.

But when they drive away, she pops up. Looks like we’ve met our first heretic! Valerie tells us that her “family” has been sequestered away by Lily. Also there is Oscar; “stoic Beau”; “Nora, the brat”; “devious mental Mary Louise”; and “Malcolm, Lily’s pet, the brown-noser.” Lily’s keeping them all inside so they can acclimate to life in 2015 without mass murder. She tells them that their “way of life” in the past didn’t exactly help them fly under the radar.

Lily has a plan to help them live their best lives, and it involves going to New York to meet Lorenzo. She leaves her children at home and tells them to stay out of trouble. That lasts about two seconds. The heretic ladies go find the teens who’d hit Valerie with their car. They promptly murder-eat them, and then Nora takes a selfie with the dead girl because 2015. What a strange family.

NEXT: Meet season 7’s MacGuffin

Detectives from Mystic Falls PD, nope scratch that, Matt and Stefan show up at the crime scene, and it takes about two seconds for them to realize a family of heretics must be on the loose. They call the Europe crew with the news. That’s enough reason for them to sober up and head back to the States — except Alaric doesn’t need to sober up. Turns out he’s been drinking tea (or “janky-ass bourbon,” according to Damon), pretending to be drunk, and then sneaking off to interrogate and beat up psychics. He’s trying to determine the origins of a glowing bouncy ball, but it seems like he’s not having any luck. We later find out he’s been keeping Jo’s body on ice, so we can assume he thinks he can bring her back to life.

Turns out someone else is hot on the trail for that bouncy ball as well: Mama Lily. She is meeting Enzo in NYC to put him on tracking duties. She said it belonged to her, had been at the Maritime Museum, and was recently lost. Enzo asks what the significance of it is, and Lily says it’s a “family matter.” Offended that he’s not part of her dysfunctional family, Enzo tells her to find her own damn bouncy ball.

Meanwhile, the small-town Scooby Gang has divided tasks. Stefan has been making a bomb (as one does), while Caroline has been doing reconnaissance work at Lily’s house, where she learns there are five heretics there. Matt has been… Well, I’m not sure.

Because Lily and Enzo are currently out of the house, Stefan thinks this is the perfect time to detonate their bomb. Caroline goes to the heretic front door with flowers as the neighborhood welcoming committee while Matt goes to the back door with a bomb. Somehow the heretics super senses don’t kick in, Matt and Caroline get out successfully, and the bomb detonates. But come on guys, in what world is killing a gang of heretics THAT easy!?

Lily tells Stefan as much when he calls to tell her the news. She knows her cuckoo family will retaliate and they do — at Matt’s police graduation ceremony. At first they do a harmless trick of turning on the sprinklers with their magic. Then they do a not-so-harmless trick of setting the whole place ablaze and then murder-eating everyone. Mary Louise and Nora are giving Caroline a witchy brain bleed while Beau tries to stake Stefan. But Mama Lily comes and tells all of her kids to knock it off. And in case you were wondering: Matt was chilling on the sidelines or something because he survived, too.

So instead of trying to fight the heretics, Caroline and Stefan decide to compromise. Lily allows them to clear out the town before the heretics take it over, but if anyone remains, he/she is fair game. Matt Donovan, the sole cop in Mystic Falls, tells the town that there was a mining fire underneath the town and now there’s lethal carbon monoxide everywhere. Stefan and Caroline go door to door and compel everyone to leave. Which, honestly, who would still be living in Mystic Falls at this point anyway?

NEXT: Never make a heretic mad

As they’re boarding up the town (wasn’t sure if they were preparing for heretics or hurricanes at this point), Damon comes back. And he’s not happy that the Salvatore Boarding House — his home — has been given to the heretics. With nowhere to live, he heads to Bonnie’s dorm room at Whitmore College. She’s still mad at him because of a little incident in Europe: one where he almost let her get hit by a truck. She’s rightfully angry, but he does his usual Damon thing and says it was only three seconds that he hesitated. When Bonnie says three seconds is a long time, he finally confesses: “In the first second, I thought how amazing it would feel to have Elena in my arms again. By second No. 2, I kissed her. And by the third, I remembered you’re my best friend and if anything ever happened to you, I would lose my mind.”

Losing a main character on a show can be tough for story lines; too often the character is written out and never spoken about again. This short speech from Damon shows TVD is handling Nina Dobrev’s exit better than that. Of course, the idea of Elena is running throughout the episode, and the characters are dealing with it in a way that feels true to life, but it doesn’t feel heavy-handed. All that to say, I approve and that scene may or may not have had me shedding a few tears.

My new favorite duo decides to team up and not let their city get taken over by heretic thugs. So Bonnie approaches Malcolm on the street and attempts to do her witchy mind-killing thing. It works ever so briefly until he starts to take the magic from her. And just like that, Damon comes from behind and rips out Malcolm’s heart. One down!

However, that victory is very short-lived because when Lily finds out, she loses her mind. She wants revenge. She sends her “not an errand boy” Enzo to drug and kidnap Caroline. Caroline! The girl who just decided to embrace her happiness and kiss her sleeping best friend’s ex-boyfriend. What an up-and down-day for her!

But that’s not even the most shocking part of the episode because it actually ends with a flash-forward to where we started: three years in the future in Brooklyn. Damon awakes to yell at Stefan, “I told you not to bother me until Elena is awake.” And then a woman in the shadows starts slinging arrows at them. Thea? Is this setting up an Arrow/TVD crossover!? I could get on board with that.

Well, what did you think, TVD fans? Season 7 looks like it’s shaping up to be a bloody season — one that hopefully won’t be suffering from its lack of original characters. Damon has his drinking to distract him from Elena, and we have our questions: What is the bouncy ball? Can it resurrect Jo? Why does Lily want it? What’s with the X scar on Beau and future Stefan? And why can’t Bamon just stealth attack the rest of the heretic clan?

Before you go, there’s one more diary entry from this episode: Julie Plec’s! She’s going to be speaking exclusively with EW weekly to give you behind-the-scenes tidbits, and there are a few things you’ll definitely want to read about this episode.

Until next week, hit up the comments below with your thoughts on the episode and theories on our mystery archer, or hit me up on Twitter @realdalener.

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The Vampire Diaries

Ian Somerhalder, Nina Dobrev, and Paul Wesley star in the CW’s romance-infused vampire soap opera.

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